Franz Marc and his dog: “To Never Know You”

    My article related to Franz Marc and his dog, “To Never Know You: Archival Photos of Russi and Franz Marc” has been published in the Fall 2017 issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture.

    Here is the abstract for the story about Franz Marc and his dog, which also contains some valuable personal insights on vernacular photography from my friend Sabrina Hughes and benefited from the questions and comments from my Doktormutter Cecilia Novero:

    This essay examines photographs of the German Expressionist artist, writer, and Tierliebhaber Franz Marc and his dog, Russi, taking the position that one of the most obvious characteristics of Marc’s life his – affectionate and respectful relationship with Russi – has been largely overlooked, though its documentation is clear. I extol the value of what are normally categorised as snapshots in reconstructing animal and human biographies. This raises questions about what photographs are valuable to such research, and why some are used repeatedly and others ignored. Significantly, a previously unknown photograph of Marc taken by his brother Paul in is published for the first time.

    Mainly I had wanted to write about discovering this photo of Franz Marc in the DKM/GNM, so here it is again:

    Franz Marc and his dog

    Franz Marc, 1914, in Munich. Photo by Paul Marc. Germanisches Nationalmuseum | Des Deutschen Kunstarchivs | Nürnberg

     

    Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?

    IMG_5470During February and March I am a Wissenschaftliche Gäste of sorts at the Universität Kassel’s Tier-Mensch Gesellschaft. I’m doing some research in the dOCUMENTA Archiv, finishing up a chapter in my dissertation, and giving a talk at this first-of-its-kind conference, “Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?“.

    The program is incredible and the speakers amazing, each talk as fascinating as the next. There are also several installations and exhibits by Mathias Antlfinger and Ute Hörner and the interspecies collective from CMUK Köln. The program is free and you can register through 25 February through the link above.

    I don’t know if I can quite live up to the talents of the other panelists, but I am confident of the attraction, pathos, and intrigue of my animal biographic subject, Russi Marc, whose death exactly 100 years ago this week was noted by his lifelong human companion, Franz Marc, who made many drawings and paintings of Russi through their lives together. Franz Marc himself died just a few weeks later. Studying Russi has taken on a life of its own in my research, and as this was a very well-documented dog and one who had many humorous and thrilling adventures I am very excited to be able to share his story with other animal lovers.

    One thing I like so much about animal studies (in discussing the title of our nascent discipline, which is now beginning something like its second wave most of us are happy to jettison the “human-” prefix) is that its adherents are for the most part partisan activists. This challenge to the academy as we fight the losing battle of the Anthropocene and the Sixth Mass Extinction has not gone unnoticed; this week, a sort of prank article was exposed (and one could extrapolate perhaps planted by the same people or person), in the December 2015 issue of the academic journal Totalitarismus und Demokratie. In retrospect, perhaps a “discovery” about the inherited aggression of “German” German Shepherds was too good to be true…but I am very curious to see what the fallout will be, since the “research” depended upon “primary sources” about dogs…another reason to be glad for Russi’s well-established canine celebritude, I guess.

    Hund vor der Welt: How a Dog Sees the World

    Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

    Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

    I write about this painting a lot – in fact I once, for quite a long time, devoted my academic research solely to this painting – but I realised I don’t often say anything about it in this space. So here is a little excerpt not from my current chapters but from a side project.

    § § §

    Franz Marc made an innovative painting – a metaphysical genre portrait of his dog Russi – called Hund vor der Welt in the spring of 1912. The large vertical canvas shows the white hound seated on a hillside, facing the sun and the landscape at an angle across an indeterminate space. We have an account of what Marc had in mind in making this image in particular and Marc’s other thoughts about painting his frequent model.[1] There is also a substantial amount of documentation about Russi, the dog, who, as the artist’s constant companion, was a character who populated the art, photographs, and writing of other people. We even know where Russi was born, how he came as a puppy to live with Marc, and when he died.[2] So despite its slightly whimsical affect, Hund vor der Welt is an image of a real dog about whom much historical information is available. Marc made many paintings in which Russi also appears as a peripheral regular “character;” he leads the way in Im Regen (1912) and leaps after Die gelbe Kuh (1911).

    August Macke, who came into frequent contact with Russi and made his own drawings of the dog, prevailed upon Marc to change the name of the painting from the one Marc originally had in mind, So wird mein Hund die Welt sieht.[3] We know from Marc that he wanted to show Russi in thought, so the dog’s seated posture suggests that this is what is happening in the stillness. The strange view of the landscape Russi “sees” is nonetheless completely identifiable as a typical one from around Sindelsdorf where Marc lived. By placing buildings in the recognizable, managed farmlands of Bavaria, Marc suggests that people and animals are part of the same ecology, which, for dogs as the primary animal of domestication, is certainly true.

    Russi did not have the life of a working dog, instead, with Marc, dividing his time between Munich, Berlin, and the small towns of Sindelsdorf and Ried. Russi lost part of his tail in 1911, an adjustment to his appearance that is reflected in his 1912 portrait. This shows that Marc had a commitment to showing morphologically accurate details even about the animals he painted, even as the paintings themselves broke with academic naturalism.

    Die gelbe Kuh, Franz Marc, 1911 189.2 × 140.52 cm Oil on canvas Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

    Die gelbe Kuh,
    Franz Marc, 1911
    189.2 × 140.52 cm
    Oil on canvas
    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

     

    [1] Franz Marc, Briefe, Schriften und Aufzeichnungen, (Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1989), 11. Observing Russi at this moment, Marc wonders: “Ich möchte mal wissen, was jetzt in dem Hund vorgeht.”

    [2] Marc, Briefe, 196-197.

    [3] Franz Marc, August Macke, Briefwechsel, (Köln: DuMont, 1964), 124-126.

    Sighthounds in the Art of the Ancient World

     

    The Townley Greyhounds

    The Townley Greyhounds

     

    The artistic expression of human relationships with animals has been and remains deeply complex and shifting. From the shaggy predators of the Lascaux Cave paintings to the costumed, hyperreal Weimareiners in the photos of William Wegman, the canine form has been especially popular with artists as both an ad hoc subject and a highbrow icon. A particular type of dog, the Cirneco dell Aetna, or Italian Greyhound, appears quite often in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoying a commonality shared only with cattle and horses.

    The Italian Greyhounds, however (as we shall call them henceforth), literally crossed the threshold in the ancient world, entering households not as steeds for work and war or sacrificial offerings, but as companions and objects of beauty.

    steatitesmall

    The aim of this paper is to point out for consideration some examples of Italian Greyhound imagery from several ancient eras and geographical locations, to describe the history of this breed of dog in relation to its popularity in Greece and Italy, to draw a few conclusions about the dogs’ visual evolution and the reasons for its prevalence, and to show how both the animal and its image continued as both an influence and a viable species beyond the end of the Roman Empire. A starting point is to describe the nature and appearance of the Italian Greyhound, a species which exists fundamentally unchanged from its earliest days.

    (more…)

    Suspiria (!) (2011)

    Königsplatz, München

    Glyptothek

     

    It would be impossible ever to say what the most exciting thing about visiting Munich was since it was all the most exciting thing, but one of the most most exciting things was visiting the Propyläen and Glyptothek “temples” of the Königsplatz featured in Dario Argento’s Suspiria. (The scaffolding behind the Propyläen is at the Lenbachhaus.)

    Suspiria just celebrated its 35th anniversary. Here is the spectacular scene in which Daniel (Silvio Bucci) crosses the square with his German Shepherd dog:

    David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express) is doing a remake of Suspiria, and of course Argento purists hate this — on its face this film is desperately not in need of a do-over — but Green has said his version will be shot in Munich, and, I mean, George Washington and Pineapple Express are great, so, I’m for it…